THE COMEDY OF ERRORSby William Shakespeare
Performed by Junior Players
In Collaboration with Shakespeare Dallas
Director -- Valerie Hauss-Smith
Set Design -- Donna Marquette, adapted for Junior Players by Taylor Speegle
Lighting Design -- Kenneth Farnsworth
Costume Design -- Bruce R. Coleman
Movement Director -- Lloyd Caldwel
Properties Design/Asst. Movement Director -- Kamen Caseyl
Sound Design -- Marco Salinas
Production Specialist – Stew Awalt
Solinus, Duke of Ephesus – Kristin Raveneau
Aegean, a merchant of Syracuse – Eliza Palter
Antipholus of Ephesus, son of Aegeon – Tom Mizell
Amtipholus of Syracuse, son of Aegeon – Austin Short
Dromio of Ephesus, attendant to Antipholus of Ephesus – Nicholas Mayfield
Dromio of Syracuse, attendant to Antipholus of Syracuse – Dante Flores
Balthazar, a merchant – Cesar Ortiz
Angelo, a goldsmith – Lorraine Garcia
First Merchant, friend to Antipholus of Syracuse – Michelle Johnson
Second Merchant, to whom Angelo is a debtor – Nasya King
Pinch, a sorcerer/Psychic/Psychiatrist – Sylvie Lednicky
Aemilia, wife to Aegeon, an abbess at Ephesus – Leah Bell
Adriana, wife to Antipholus of Ephesus – Rachael McNamara
Luciana, her sister – Paige Madkins
Luce, servant to Adriana – Tony Spurgin
A Courtesan – Jessica Valero
Jailor – Audrey Keen
Officer 1 – Jesus Gamez
Officer 2 – Matt Douthit
A servant of Antipholus of Ephesus – Allegra Schmitt
Director – Joan Milburn
Cameraman – Marcelino Vazquez
Stage Hand – Matthew Nguyen
Stage Hand – Nicholas Wanjohi
Reviewed Performance: 7/23/2014
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Two sets of twins, each set separated at birth, parents who are also torn apart, each thinking the other dead, a threat of execution unless money can be produced, mistaken identity, and mass mayhem. Must be The Comedy of Errors!
Thought by some scholars to have been written late 1594, it may be Shakespeare’s first play and is certainly one of his earliest and his shortest. It is based on Menaechmi by Plautus, which was part of the curriculum of grammar school students during Shakespeare’s day. Not published until it appeared in the First Folio in 1623, Shakespeare, while loosely following Plautus’ plot, added considerable alterations. The serious part of the plot involving the impending execution of Aegeon, giving the twin masters twin servants, creating the character of the Goldsmith and placing the character of the Courtesan in the background are all his own creations. He also structured The Comedy of Errors as a farce and followed the unities of time, place and action.
The play was never a particular favorite of the eighteenth-century stage because it didn’t offer the kind of striking role the great actor/managers of the period could exploit. It has had many adaptations and variations over the centuries, including a unique adaptation by the Flying Karamazov Brothers performed at Lincoln Center that was shown on MTV and PBS. Musicals, including Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart’s The Boys from Syracuse, and film, one called Big Business starring Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin, have been suggested by the script. India has made five films based on the play!
Junior Players, a national award-winning organization offering wonderful programs for young people, does a Shakespeare play each summer under the direction of Valerie Hauss-Smith, always taking their own distinctive approach to staging. This year’s production of The Comedy of Errors is no exception. Using the film comedies of the 1920’s as a starting point, particularly those of Charlie Chaplin, the teens explore Shakespeare’s play using the wacky world of Mack Sennett and the Keystone Cops.
Lights! Camera! Action! The production is set on a Hollywood sound stage representing Ephesus, a city on the Mediterranean. To jazz music of the period, Hollywood stereotypes flood the stage as everyone rushes to set up for filming. The director, megaphone in hand with his cameraman assistant in tow, rushes on indicating setups, take his place out in the audience, shouts “action!” and the play begins. Off to the side are sound effects men with a thunder sheet and wind machine. It’s a high-energy, terrific opening that immediately establishes tone, setting, pace and environment, and continues with action and music at each transition.
To the sound of film whirring through a camera, the first scene begins, filled with exposition explaining the separation of the sets of twins, the loss of a wife and the search that brings Aegeon from Syracuse to Ephesus. Often a problematic scene that either has no added clarification or gets loaded down with pantomime to visually explain what’s happening, Director Hauss-Smith finds the perfect compromise with the thunder sheet and wind machine providing atmosphere as the tale is told. Soon, the play is off and literally running!
We meet Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse, played by Austin Short all in white, and Dante Flores looking like Charlie Chaplin complete with black bowler and black-outlined eyes. Then we’re also introduced to Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus, Tom Mizell in white and Nicholas Mayfield, in Charlie Chaplin black. Confusion soon reigns supreme!
Both young actors who play Antipholus are tall and agile, each bringing similarities and yet individuality to their roles, Austin Short playing his character increasingly bewildered and Tom Mizell playing his increasingly frustrated and angry. Both young men use the setup of 20’s Hollywood comedy to take advantage of exaggerated facial expressions, takes and reactions to create their own Antipholus, confusion building in one and frustration in the other. They are essentially the straight men to the Dromios, and the two young men play their parts well.
The Dromios are the stars of this show and Dante Flores and Nicholas Mayfield know it and show it! Using their obvious study of Charlie Chaplin films, they mug, pose, walk and pratfall with aplomb and delight. It is a real pleasure to watch two such talented young men having such a good time and the audience joins in their glee, relishing every silly moment. Flores’ “globe” speech, always a set piece, doesn’t disappoint. Each gets his moment to shine and the obvious work and background study are there on display. Using subtle vocal inflections and reactions, they are alike, yet different, creating similar characters despite Mayfield’s height and Flores’ dark looks.
Rachael McNamara is Adriana, wife to Antipholus of Ephesus, and I had forgotten what a large role this character has in the play. McNamara handles the rhymed couplets with skill and ease, as do all the students in the play, which is a real credit to them and their director. Miss McNamara takes command of the stage, strong without being shrewish. Her motivations and reactions are clearly coming from a real, yet comic place, not always an easy task to pull off.
Luciana, Adriana’s sister, is played by Paige Madkins and together they play off each other well. Madkins plays Luciana as solid and dependable, and her confusion when thinking her sister’s husband is attracted to her is well acted with reactions of equal attraction and horror. It’s a nice scene that depends on the actress for the humor, and Madkins handles it with grace and skill.
The large ensemble of twenty four students from area high schools is filled with outstanding cameos including those of Kristin Raveneau as Solinus, the Duke of Ephesus; Eliza Palter as Aegeon, the father of the two Antipholi; Leah Bell as Aemilia, Aegeon’s wife and the boys’ mother; Lorraine Garcia as Angelo, the goldsmith; Jessica Valero’s Courtesan, and all the other fine young actors. Each is confident in their characterizations and why they are in the scene, their intentions always clear.
It is to Hauss-Smith’s credit that the whole conceit of 20’s Hollywood works so well in this production. Her use of the conventions and atmosphere of the film period go a long way to make this production outstanding.
The wonderful bits of business, “the tip, the slip, the double take, the collide, the fall, and the roar,” as Ms Hauss-Smith says in her Direcor’s Notes, pay off in this totally professional, not in the least “typical high school production” of Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors. The play’s pace never lags, the movement and groupings always a delight to watch. Lloyd Caldwell is credited as the Movement Director and he does his usual wonderful work as he has done in so many Shakespeare productions here before. Kamen Casey is credited as his assistant.
The terrific music of the period and great sound effects are by Marco Salinas, also a familiar Shakespeare Dallas alumnus and they help the show immeasurably. Costumes are by the always dependable Bruce R. Coleman and are done in dazzling black and white. Lighting Design by Kenneth Farnsworth, complete with flicker effect during the mad chase scene in Act Two, is not only serviceable but lights the show beautifully.
Since error means “to wander”, you could say that the play is actually about wandering and characters trying to find their true identities. Servitude vs. freedom, the 16th century convention of eldest inheriting and being favored are in there somewhere too, and at the end of the play, as both Dromios, not knowing who was born first, agree to go in the door together as equals, you’ll find more symbolic, deeper messages to be discovered but not belabored.
Wanderer or stay-at-home, eldest or youngest, get your family and friends together and go to Samuell Grand Park to see Junior Players’ The Comedy of Errors. You will be hard pressed to find a more skilled, enjoyable production acted by talented youth going on this summer.
In collaboration with Shakespeare Dallas
Samuell Grand Park Amphitheater
1500 Tennison Parkway
Dallas, TX 75223
Limited run through July 27th
Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8:15 pm
Admission is free with a $10.00 suggested donation.
For more information on this production or about Junior Players, go to www.juniorplayers.org or call Executive Director Kirsten Brandt James at 214-526-4076.